April 4, 2019
VIA EMAIL: [email protected]
Pitzer College Board of Trustees
1050 N. Mills Avenue
Claremont, California 91711
Dear Honorable Members of Pitzer College Board of Trustees,
We write on behalf of StandWithUs (SWU), an international, non-profit, Israel education organization, and Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), a non-profit organization that brings together alumni to combat anti-Semitism on campus. Both SWU and ACF believe deeply in the importance of free speech, academic freedom, and protecting students from discrimination. It has come to our attention that the Pitzer Student Senate has drafted a resolution calling for the resignation of Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver for exercising his authorized right to override the recommendation of the College Council to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program in Haifa.
We commend President Oliver’s principled stand against this discriminatory study abroad boycott. Further, we applaud President Oliver for protecting the rights of Pitzer students to enhance their education while simultaneously safeguarding their freedom to explore complex issues on their terms. In his March 14, 2019 message to the Pitzer community, President Oliver confirmed that Pitzer’s primary mission is to educate, not indoctrinate, its students. President Oliver’s message recognizes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most controversial issues of our time. By taking a side in the conflict, Pitzer would be taking a divisive political stand at the expense of educational opportunities for students, blatantly violating the core principle of Pitzer’s mission. We encourage you to take this opportunity to stand with President Oliver, and publicly and unambiguously affirm his decision to safeguard all students at Pitzer College.
Study abroad programs encourage peer to peer relationship building, which can help the next generation of leaders create the conditions for a just and lasting peace. Meaningless and purely symbolic resolutions that do nothing to help Israelis or Palestinians on the ground are not the way forward. To that end, we agree that any efforts to deny students the opportunity to experience the complexity of the region for themselves is “inconsistent with Pitzer’s core values” and “a repudiation of [Pitzer’s] educational mission.”
We are also disturbed by the fact that the petition against President Oliver highlights signatories such as Richard Falk, who has been widely condemned for spreading anti-Semitism and wild conspiracy theories. Human Rights Watch cut ties with Falk because of how hateful his rhetoric is, yet the organizers of the petition and no-confidence motion chose to prominently display his name.
While free speech and academic freedom are paramount on campus, so is the responsibility of university leaders to use their First Amendment rights to condemn hate and promote a truly comprehensive learning environment. We commend President Oliver for taking action to ensure a safe learning environment for Jewish and Israeli students at Pitzer College, and we encourage him and this Board to stay the course in furthering the best interests of students and Pitzer College itself.
In 2017 the Pitzer Board of Trustees nullified a 2017 student senate budget amendment that endorsed the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. At the time, the Board acknowledged the divisiveness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refused to adopt a policy that violated the fundamental democratic values of Pitzer College. It is our hope that this Board will take this important opportunity to publicly affirm President Oliver’s decision as entirely consistent with these values, and reaffirm its commitment to inclusion and respect for varying viewpoints.
Avi D. Gordon
Alums for Campus Fairness
Cc: Melvin L. Oliver, PhD. President, Pitzer College
Update: The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, in cooperation with local Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations, released a statement calling on action by Emory University.